Tydskrif vir Letterkunde
Print version ISSN 0041-476X
OBUMSELU, Ben. Ben Okri's the famished road: a re-evaluation. Tydskr. letterkd. [online]. 2011, vol.48, n.1, pp. 26-38. ISSN 0041-476X.
This paper assesses positively the important contributions which Ato Quayson and Douglas McCabe have made to the understanding of Ben Okri's The Famished Road. But it questions whether placing the novel firmly in the context of Yoruba orality, as Quayson does, or in the tradition of New Age spirituality, as McCabe does, does not diminish the work unduly. It points out that Ben Okri did not take his Yoruba material directly from traditional folklore but from secondary sources in which the myths and legends of the Yoruba have been modified and re-interpreted and in The Famished Road the original folk narratives are further transfigured by close linkage with the myths and legends of other lands. Similarly, Azaro's chanting of the soft paradisal anthems of New Age travellers does not stand in the novel unchanged; it is absorbed and transformed by the context of a novel which deals with the problems of growing up and willingly accepting the burdens of an adult life. The article concludes, after a careful re-evaluation of leading episodes in the novel, that a broad late twentieth century context of existentialist thought and postmodern fiction is the proper background for appreciating a novel in which the extravagances of African folk art are adapted to contemporary myth of the culture hero.
Keywords : existentialism; New Age spirituality; postmodern Nigerian fiction; Yoruba folklore.